The finger-pointing in religious blogging circles has begun over the reason why the 15-year-old son of Baptist college president, Ergun Caner, committed suicide earlier this week.
As family and friends mourn Braxton Caner’s death and hold a funeral for him on Saturday, the admittedly “anti-Christian” UK publication, FreeThinker, raised the question, “Did Braxton Paige Caner kill himself because of a Baptist preacher’s bullying?” The Baptist preacher in question is J.D. Hall, the lead pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Sidney, Montana. Citing a report in early July from the pastor behind the Christian blog, The Xian Satirist, JD Hall “used Twitter not only to play Braxton against his father, but, at the beginning of July accused the youngster of ‘gross immorality.'”
The blogger wrote that Hall has a “special fixation” on criticizing Ergun Caner and that on July 2, that fixation took “a terrible turn.” Hall posted the following tweet:
Why is @ErgunCaner’s son, @braxtoncaner89 posting make-out pics and profanity on his Twitter? The immorality surrounding Caner is astounding — JD Hall (@PulpitAndPen) July 2, 2014
Pastor Brent Hobbs of New Song Fellowship in Virginia Beach, VA, criticized Hall saying, “I see @PulpitAndPen [JD Hall] is doubling down on complete lack of class. JD owes @erguncaner and his son an apology… JD Hall has firmly entrenched himself as one of the top jerks of SBC blogging. Second only to Tim Rogers.”
FBC Jax Watchdogs (which has been critical of megachurch pastors) also called Hall on the tweet. Hall defended himself by saying:
@fbcjaxwatchdog Give a chapter and verse as to why a young man’s public displays of vulgarity can’t be discussed and we’ll talk. — JD Hall (@PulpitAndPen) July 3, 2014
JD Hall later wrote a blog post titled, “On Caner’s Son,” defending his actions on Twitter. (Sometime after July 28th, Hall deleted that post, but a cached page from Google can be viewed here.) He stated:
Furthermore, there was no “attack.” There was no “going after.” Much of the vitriol was in response to the characterization of my tweet as an “attack” or “going after” a “child.” Again, consult the Twitter feed. There was no such thing. I pointed out public error – error that Caner himself should have pointed out to his son a long, long time ago… This was not about “shaming” a young man (although he should be ashamed). His father has already shamed him. The content of his Twitter feed is shameful enough by itself… This is yet another indication that there is something seriously wrong with Ergun’s leadership – the same leadership that he now has over hundreds of young Southern Baptists.
Braxton Caner apparently tried to defend himself, engaging in a conversation on Twitter with Pastor Hall, telling him that his ‘obsession’ with his father was “kinda creepy for a grown man.” FreeThinker posted the following record of the conversation:
Hall’s latest attack on Ergun Caner came on July 28th, just a day before Braxton’s suicide. It was prompted by Pastor Johnny Hunt’s invitation for Ergun Caner to speak at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. Hall accompanied a video of the service at Woodstock with a post calling Caner an “openly unrepentant chronic liar” and said that Pastor Hall had “illegitimatized himself” by inviting him to speak.
In a note posted on Hall’s blog sometime before it was taken down on July 28th, Hall offered somewhat of an apology saying,
“I regret pointing people to the material or behavior exhibited on Caner’s son, Braxton’s Twitter account. That was a distraction, and I should have contacted Caner about it…I shouldn’t have interacted with the boy those couple times once the original tweet was made….I’ve reached out to a mutual friend of Caner and myself to give an apology to make sure he gets it. If someone wants to beat me over the head with this apology or the way it’s worded, then I apologize for that, too.”
Others in the Christian blogosphere pointed fingers at “Calvinists” who “have relentlessly pursued Caner with personal fervor.” Dr. James Ach’s post on the Do Right Christians blog has generated over 50 comments, most of them lengthy and detailed.
Dr. James White, director of the Alpha and Omega apologetics ministry based in Phoenix, AZ, said: “This needs to stop, immediately. The issues surrounding Ergun Caner’s past can, and must, be set aside for the time being. By all sides, including his most avid defenders. I, for one, will not pursue the issues relating to Caner’s past claims until after a meaningful period of time has passed, and they become relevant to his future actions. I call upon all others to likewise give the Caner family time to grieve and deal with this tragedy. I include everyone in this request. Leave all matters of speculation, finger-pointing, etc., to the side.”
The sources mentioned in this article may be read at the following links:
– Barry Duke, FreeThinker, “The suicide of a preacher’s kid”
– The Xian Satirist, “Using Kids as Pawns in Theological Battle”
– Dr. James Ach, Do Right Christians, “Braxton Caner Tragedy-Part 1”
– Dr. James White, Alpha & Omega Ministries, “The Judge of All the Earth Will Do Right”
– JD Hall, Pulpit & Pen, “Full Video of Ergun Caner speaking at Johnny Hunt’s Church”
– Google cache page, “On Caner’s Son”